The Tories' plans to cut taxes and increase public spending don't add up

Share

This time last week, Tony Blair was being widely excoriated for misrepresenting Tory spending plans. The Prime Minister had insinuated that the Conservative economic proposals would mean sacking every teacher, nurse and GP in the country. The charge did not stick, and the Tories managed to make some political capital out of Mr Blair's perceived mendacity. But now the positions have been reversed.

This time last week, Tony Blair was being widely excoriated for misrepresenting Tory spending plans. The Prime Minister had insinuated that the Conservative economic proposals would mean sacking every teacher, nurse and GP in the country. The charge did not stick, and the Tories managed to make some political capital out of Mr Blair's perceived mendacity. But now the positions have been reversed.

Michael Howard announced yesterday that Howard Flight, the deputy Conservative chairman, will not be a Tory candidate in the forthcoming general election. Mr Flight's crime was to contradict his party's public position in a speech to some right-wing activists. This might have gone unnoticed had his comments not been about the highly sensitive area of tax cuts. Mr Flight hinted that the James report - commissioned by the Tories to look into ways of cutting waste in the public finances - is merely a political fig leaf. What the Tories really want to do, Mr Flight seemed to suggest, is to cut public spending and deliver significant tax cuts.

This is a undoubtedly a setback for the Tory campaign, which is why Mr Howard acted so quickly yesterday to remove the party whip from Mr Flight. The Tories have gone to great pains to emphasise that, if elected, they would not only match Labour's spending in key public services such as health and education, but also spend more. Mr Flight's comments undermine the credibility of that claim. Was it a momentary slip of the tongue? It hardly matters. The damage has been done.

Mr Flight's gaffe not only makes the Tories look distinctly amateurish - it also draws attention to the sketchy nature of their financial calculations. According to the James report, there is £35bn of waste in the public sector. That is by no means an unlikely estimate. Gordon Brown himself has identified £21bn of savings. But it stretches belief for the Tories to argue that it will be simple for them to cut £35bn and then to use the savings to finance tax cuts. As the Liberal Democrats have pointed out, the Tories are effectively proposing to cut deficits, cut taxes and increase public spending all at the same time. This has a distinct air of pie in the sky.

But it would be wrong to attach too much significance to Mr Flight's unfortunate remarks and the panicked reaction of his political masters in the Tory party. The majority of the public is well aware that the Tories are philosophically in favour of lower taxes. Mr Flight's comments will not have come as any great surprise. The truth is that the Conservatives have tied themselves up in knots by attempting to match Labour's spending on public services. But this Dutch auction approach to fiscal policy is futile. The real question ought to be about how to give taxpayers better value for their spending on public services. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the Tories being in favour of reduced taxation. But unless this is combined with realistic proposals of how to make our monolithic public services more efficient, it looks like cynical short-termism. The Tories have failed to offer such a programme. It is this, rather than Mr Flight, that lies at the heart of their problems.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Zoë Ball says having her two children was the best thing ever to happen to her  

Start a family – you’ll never have to go out again

John Mullin
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn